Top ideas for writing visual Analysis Paper

Are you a first year art or history student with a visual analysis assignment? Have you taken up art as an elective and ended up stuck with a visual analysis assignment you know nothing about? This article will give you the best tips to use to make the process easier and more enjoyable. With this information, you are sure to get the most out of your research.

What is visual analysis?

Artists use different tricks in visual art to prompt a reaction from their audience. Learning how to describe visual art requires you to know and understand these tricks. Visual analysis is described as the process of looking at an art piece and evaluating it for the means of execution and what the artist meant. This is an essay mostly written by student majoring in art, history or communication.

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Sometimes, art pieces are also analyzed because of their historical significance and their impact on politics, art, and culture. The focus on the art piece is usually bright colored and larger while the less significant parts of the image are in the background and can be darker.

Visual analysis is not just limited to painted art pieces. It can also be done on photographs, writings, journalism, film and photo-journalism. These works are mostly meant for entertainment and informative purposes. You need to look at art from a deeper perspective than what meets the eye. In most cases, it contains important factors such as symbolism, choice of colors and relationships between figures.

In a visual analysis essay, you are required to vividly describe the elements of the painting and explain how they relate with each other to make the art stand out. As an art student you should pay close attention to the audience, the historical context and how the image is formed.

Your visual art essay should describe the piece of art as vividly as possible. Your reader should be able to picture the art piece from reading your paper. Use clear and precise language for your description to ensure you do not lose your readers along the way. This essay is written from your perspective and builds on your opinion of the art piece as well as the essence of the piece.

What to look for when conducting a visual analysis

Whether you are a journalism or arts major, the mediums used for analyzing art are the same. Once you specialize and internalize the process, you are good to go. Let’s take for instance, you are analyzing a painting, here is the process you should follow;

Look at your image keenly

The only way you can exhaustively look at all elements and components of a visual art is by taking your time to look at the piece of art. Look closely and keenly to discover all the special features of the painting and its visual composition.

Before you do background research and collect historical information on the painting, make sure you have looked at the painting or art piece. This is because, other people’s opinion can influence how you view the painting and you end up with a distorted image. Your visual analysis essay needs to be written based on your personal opinion and thoughts. You can write them down as you study and look at the art piece then do your research afterward.

Ask questions

Use questions to help you explore and explain the visual composition of the piece of art. The best way to uncover all the elements of the art piece is through using questions. Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you study the piece;

What is the historical context?

There is a huge significant difference between a painting from the renaissance era and the surrealist era. For surrealist paintings, understanding the essence of the painting is the most essential assessment. The surrealism is classified as an artistic movement not just an era. Study the history of the painting ant the time period it was created and you will find out a lot more about the painting that what you see.

What was the purpose and message from the painter?

In some cases painters were paid to paint, for instance, Michelangelo was paid to paint the Sistine chapel. Behind every art piece, there is a message that immediately catches you when you look at the painting and the hidden message. Think critically about the intention and purpose behind the painting and the reason why the painter created it.

Who is the audience and what feelings does the piece of art spark?

The audience is not just the people in the modern world who visit galleries and showrooms to view the art. When the piece was being created, the painter had a specific audience in mind. An artist knows what their specific audience will feel when they look at the painting. For instance, some painters painted for the masses, others for artists, others for the elite and others for religious audiences. Each of these paintings will look different and exude a unique feeling for its intended audience.

 Who was the painter?

The most important question is who the painter is. From this question, you can probably answer two or three other questions. For instance, knowing who the painter is can point you towards the era they live hence the era the painting was created. Classical painters painted for the church, literature and historical events. Modernist painters formed a different form of art drawn from the classical painters.

What structure and material is the art made of?

Some people created sculptures using stone, some used oil based paints for their paintings while others used water based paint. Such attributes are usually also a signal of the era the painting was created. While other painters painted on paper canvases others painted on cloth canvases while others painted on walls and ceilings of buildings.

Does the art piece resemble the name?

In cases where the name and the art piece don’t seem to match, there is usually a deeper meaning and symbolism within the art which you need to uncover. Other pieces such as the Mona Lisa have names that are a direct translation of what the image is, a painting of a woman.

Answering these questions will give you all the important information you need to write an exhaustive visual analysis essay. In historical art pieces, the analysis goes even deeper. Factors such as the colors and themes used and the different reactions and critiques play a part in delivering the full analysis.

How to create a detailed analysis of visual art

For first year art and history students, learning how to write a visual analysis essay is among the first things you will be introduced to. You get to develop and polish your skills as you continue with your academic journey. Every piece of art is unique. The analysis you perform on one will be different on another. Before you can perfect the visual analysis skill, you will require several opportunities to practice.

To make the process easier for you even as a beginner, here are some steps you can follow;

Step 1; provide general information

Research and write about the general background information of the art piece. Provide key details about the art piece that do not go into its essence. Some of the points you should include as general information are;

  • What and who is represented in the piece of art?
  • In which places has this art been displayed in the past and present?
  • Where and which date was the piece created?
  • What is the name of the artist behind the painting ?(this is usually done using the artists last name)
  • Which medium was used to create the piece and why was this specific medium important?
  • Who were the initial intended audiences for the painting?
  • Which materials were used to create the piece and what was its original size?

Step 2; describe the painting

Describe what the art piece looks from all angles and discuss what it represents. This way, your reader will have a clear image in mind when they envision the painting. Talk about all the physical features and visible aspects of the painting such as the shapes present, the colors used, the theme and the characters.

Make sure your description can spark a feeling and convey a mood in your audiences mind.  Some of the most important factors to include are;

  • Who are the characters and figures and what do they represent?
  • What is the setting or the background of the painting?
  • For abstract paintings, build a description around the shapes and colors
  • Describe the general mood and lighting of the painting
  • If it is a classical painting, describe the story or theme the painting is based on

Step 3; provide a detailed analysis

This section makes up the larger part of your document, it is also the most time consuming. You need to give an in-depth analysis and look at the principle of design of the painting after analyzing all the present elements on the painting. Describe the painting techniques, composition and formation. Explain the significance of all the different colors, shapes and patterns used on the painting. Examine how the artist utilized space, time and motion.

Here is a list of the elements of artwork you should look into on your chosen art piece;

  • Lines can be used as straight, thick, thin, curved, vertical, horizontal or implied
  • Colors are classified as primary and secondary colors and set a warm or cool tone to the painting
  • Space can be used to depict depth in the painting
  • Lighting is looked at in terms of the source of lighting, whether it is flat and whether the colors and even or contrasting
  • The motion of the images and brush strokes used in the painting are also analyzed
  • Shapes are usually either visible or hidden in plain sight and are often geometric shapes
  • Patterns can be repeated in paintings and can also be figures or hidden textual patterns.

How to write a visual analysis essay

Having all the information and knowledge about an art piece does not suffice as an essay. Your paper needs organization and structure for you to earn full marks. This is how a visual analysis paper should be organized;


After coming up with comprehensive visual analysis essay topics, the next step is drafting your introduction. Provide all the general information such as who the artist is and when the painting was created. Summarize the general course of the essay and give interesting facts or anecdotes about art. Make your introduction interesting to keep your audience glued. In summary, your introduction should;

  • Provide a brief description of the general information about the painting
  • Contain interesting facts about the artist and the painting itself
  • Give a summarized description of what is contained in the painting
  • Have an attention grabbing statement to draw in your readers

Thesis statement

In one or two sentences right at the end of your introduction, state the points of analysis that you will focus on in your essay. Remember to remind your readers what the painting or image means.

Body paragraphs

Organize your thoughts form one point to another and support your thesis statement using your ideas. Your body paragraphs include all the detailed information about the painting. Start by giving a description of the visible features then move to describing the intricate details and elements of the painting.

Talk about the shapes, colors, technique and patterns in depth. Remember to only focus on the elements that support and develop your thesis statement. Evaluate the relationships present in the painting between different objects. Portray your personal thoughts about the painting as a response to the visual argument the artist brought forth in the painting.


Your conclusion should be just as strong as the rest of your paper. Give your observation and discuss how the elements and designs give the painting its meaning. You can also compare how the first audience reacted to the art and how today’s audience reacts. Comparing the art piece to other similar pieces will leave your audience curious to find out more about how they are related. Give your suggestion of how the art piece fits into today’s art genres.


Just like all other essays, standard rules of citation apply. If you quote another writer work, you are required to include in text citation and create a reference list at the end of the document. Your referencing should be done in the format recommended in your institution.

Revision and editing

Do not skip this step. Once you are done writing, go through your work multiple times to correct existing grammatical, structural, punctuation and logical errors. You want to hand in an error free paper to ensure that your administrator enjoys reading through it and gives you the best results.

Closing comments

A visual analysis essay should be a fun and educative experience. For you to enjoy writing it you need to know how to simplify the process while making the most out of it. This article has equipped you with the necessary information on how you can write an A+ paper while enjoying the process. However, if you need more help, contact us.

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